Monday, December 29, 2014

A season of blessings

Did you have a good Christmas? We did!

The run-up to Christmas was a hectic one, especially for Lesley-Anne. However, in the spirit of Christmas, I've decided to focus my last post of 2014 on the many blessings God has showered us with.

1. A Time to Dance and a Time to Rest

Lesley-Anne embarked on a one-week trip to Taiwan with her dance CCA mates. It was a great experience as she attended loads of dance masterclasses conducted at professional studios. Ballet, jazz, hip hop, street, etc. However, it was also an exhausting trip. Apart from dancing all day, the kids had to walk as far as 1km to get to the dance studios and went out to street markets in the evenings. The fatigue plus the cold and wintery wind caused Lesley-Anne to return home with a fever and sore throat, and she wasn't the only one.

Nevertheless, it was an invaluable learning experience and I thought Lesley-Anne falling sick was actually a blessing in disguise as she was forced to rest at home for a whole week - something she badly needed to do before the craziness of the New Year begins all over again.

2. A Time to Create

We did the final edits for Danger Dan #5 just before Christmas. The schedule was so tight that I didn't have any time to feel nostalgic about editing the last book of the series. Actually, there will be another Danger Dan book but it won't be part of the storyline... hmm...that sounds complicated. Never mind, I'll explain another time!

Anyway, Danger Dan Creates the Ultimate Utama Uproar is both Lesley-Anne and my favourite book in the series, and we hope our readers will love it too! It's scheduled to be out on 16 January 2015. Will post updates.

What a juicy orange cover!

Incidentally, a wonderful reader sent me this photo of her niece who's a huge fan of Danger Dan. She visited the Epigram Books pop-up sale to get her copy of Danger Dan #4. How sweet is that?

3. A Time to Eat and be Merry

We're very fortunate that my mil, despite her years, is still in good health and spirits, and always makes an effort to observe traditions, such as making tang yuan for the Winter Solstice Festival.

And then, there's the annual Christmas eve party with the extended family - an event we all look forward to (admittedly, a large part because of the food. Such gluttons we are!) We're also incredibly fortunate to have a gem of a helper who is so dedicated and familiar with our ways that she's now able to prepare Christmas dinner almost single-handedly.

 Here's the matriarch with her grand-kids and great grand-kids.

4. A Time to Laugh and a Time to Love

I believe in laughter and humour. In our household, there's a lot of good-natured joshing which I feel goes a long way towards relieving the stresses of everyday life. Can't always be taking ourselves too seriously. Whenever one of us does or says something silly (which is frequent), my response is: "Wow, your brilliance astounds me." Or Lesley-Anne would say, "Come, let me slow-clap for you." All in good fun.

For Christmas, I don't know where she found the time but Lesley-Anne made us cushions as gifts. Creative and personalised - how not to smile at this?

Can you tell Andre loves his cushion?

As my kids grew into teenage-dom, one thing I'm always thankful for is how easily I can still talk to them. Having experienced Lesley-Anne's angsty years, I was bracing myself for Andre to turn into the Incredible Sulk but that never happened. He's still happy-go lucky, and generous with hugs and kisses (not in public, though!) I asked him: "How come you're never moody? Are you always going to be sweet like this or are the moods yet to happen?"

His reply: "Aiyah, won't lah. I'm always happy. Just enjoy life as it comes."

I'm also grateful for how Lesley-Anne and Andre have grown very close. When I tell people that the two of them get along really well despite their vast differences in personality, I suspect people either think I'm lying or that I'm the luckiest mum in the world.

And with that, 2014 comes to a close. Where did the time go? As we usher in 2015, I'm not going to  make New Year's resolutions to be better, faster, more patient, more diligent, yada yada, because I know the intent is always stronger than the resolve. Instead, I offer a different approach and leave you with this New Year quote by Neil Gaiman, one of Lesley-Anne's favourite authors:
"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something." - Neil Gaiman
May you embrace the many mistakes that you are about to make in 2015, and the wondrous discoveries and opportunities thereafter. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

NTUC Back to School Fair

Last Saturday marked the last talk of the year for Lesley-Anne at the NTUC Back to School Fair.

NTUC had invited her to speak at the Fair which was held at the National Library at Victoria Street. It's quite a big event with activities held over the entirely weekend and a massive book fair at the atrium by Closetful of Books.

It was a very wet Saturday but looking at the crowd, spirits were far from dampened. It was quite an honour for Lesley-Anne and I thought she did great. (Don't think it's mother's bias cos other people came up to me and told me the same thing, haha!) With each talk, she is growing more comfortable with public speaking and if there were any nerves, it didn't show at all. She engaged the crowd well which comprised both kids and parents.

After the half-hour talk was a meet-and-greet session where we signed Danger Dan books and met young (and young at heart) readers.

There are times when I wonder who is actually reading our books, since we don't do a lot of publicity and school talks, compared to some other local writers. Lesley-Anne is a lot more steady in this respect - these things don't bother her. During these moments of self-doubt, I notice that God often sends people my way to boost my confidence (how much assurance does this person need, He must think!) Yesterday, a sweet little girl came by with all four copies of Danger Dan to be signed and her mother told me she loves the books. Her favourite is Danger Dan #2.

Another mum once told me her sons love Danger Dan and Percy Jackson, and recently, Danger Dan seems to have taken the no. 1 spot. Wah! Such stories do encourage me so.

NTUC also arranged for us to be interviewed on camera. A teeny celebrity moment, heh.

No rest for the weary. Lesley-Anne will be off on her overseas school trip but for me, I'll be chilling the rest of the year. Have to get the mind zen before 2015 starts in earnest!

I'll be giving this blog a rest till after Christmas so to all my fantastic readers - have a very blessed yuletide with your loved ones and may the Christmas star shine brightly for you this season!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The French connection

Ho ho ho, the Christmas tree is up!

But even before the lights started twinkling, we'd already begun our year-end feasting. Be gone, thy dastardly diet!

It started with a delectable French dinner at our good friends, Isabelle and Joon's place. Isabelle's mum was in town and she'd whipped up some duck confit and gratin. As if that's not decadent enough, she'd also brought foie gras from Paris! Drool...

Our stomachs are indeed fortunate to be beneficiaries of such culinary goodness. When I was looking through my photos, I realised that they were all on the food. No photos of people!

Afternote: Kenneth did have a photo of the food AND the company! Adding it here:

We wanted to return the hospitality so we invited Isabelle and her family over for a popiah party. It was the first time they'd had home-made popiah (for Isabelle's mum, first time any sort of popiah.)

Photos of people at last! Not entirely a glutton at heart...

Passing the wrapping test...

...before showing the hubby how it's done.

Isabelle and I go back more than 10 years. We first met when we were working at SMU, before Andre was born. She's now the owner of the very successful Stand Up Paddling School Singapore which has been making waves (see what I did there?) in the local sports scene. It has been featured extensively in the media. Professional and totally focused on safety - that's what stands her school apart from the rest.

If you've never tried stand up paddling, you've got to! We can't go as often as we'd like to but when my kids love it whenever they get the chance. Paddling at the idyllic Tanjong Beach at Sentosa is a bonus - calm waters and a view to boot. When Lesley-Anne and I were away in Hong Kong in March this year, Andre had a treat of his own.

SUP School even has its own merchandise now. Striking a pose in the cool blue shirts!

I'm so very proud of ma très chère amie. (Not sure if that's the right expression but the sentiment is there ♥)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

JC or poly? Andre decides

Last month during the time of the Focus on the Family debacle, we were at home discussing the thorny issue of relationship programmes when I suddenly recalled that Andre had attended one in school.

Me: "Do you know who conducted it?"

Andre: "Dunno."

Me: "What did they teach?"

Andre: "Dunno. I wasn't listening."

Me (exasperated): "Aiyoh! Why not?"

Andre: "No need lah! Everybody says relationships so complicated. Just don't get into a relationship lor! Problem solved."

That's Andre for you - always taking the path of least resistance.

Anyway, Andre enjoyed a very nice end to the school year. First, he received a medal - not for badminton but... archery! He had chosen archery for his school sabbatical programme and his team came in first.

The second surprise was his year-end results. For the first time in his secondary school journey, he scored all As and Bs (well, except for Chinese which he inevitably flunked). Not sure how that happened but we're not complaining! "Have you been holding out on me?" I asked.

Since this marks the end of sec 2 for Andre, he had to choose his subjects for sec 3. Almost all his classmates and friends were gunning for triple science or double science classes. Andre was one of the exceptions who opted for combined science.

Let me explain the rationale. Earlier this year when I had a heart-to-heart talk with Andre, we discussed his future. Based on what he told me he wanted to do, he had decided that he wanted to go to the polytechnic after sec 4 instead of a JC. He was even more adamant about this decision after he saw how Lesley-Anne was plagued by endless homework and exams in JC. "You can't make me go to a JC!" he told me.

Lol. Not that I had any intention of doing so anyway. Even though Kenneth and I have always told him to keep an open mind, based on his plans, his aptitude and his interests, our gut feel is that Andre is much more suited for a poly education than a JC one. We really don't believe that one is a better choice than the other. Unlike some parents who think that you should gun for a JC if you can make it, we honestly feel that a JC education isn't for everyone. It suits Lesley-Anne but it probably would be a complete mismatch for Andre. This is a very good website on the differences between a JC and poly education.

Knowing whether you want to go to a poly or JC impacts on your subject choices for sec 3. To get to a poly, you only need to count five subjects whereas for JC, you need six. So taking too many additional subjects would eat into your time, which the triple and double science combinations would (8 subjects each). For the combined science combination, Andre would only need to take 7 subjects, which is much more manageable. Furthermore, it's preferable to take pure science subjects only if you intend to take science at JC (combined science has reduced content and would put you at a disadvantage) or if you're passionate about science (which Andre is not). For the poly courses Andre is interested in, there is no pre-requisite for science subjects.

And that's why he's ditching the popular triple/double science route. Too often, I see kids and parents adopting the same kiasu attitude in secondary school the same way they do with the PSLE (and everything else). Get into the "best" school/course that your score can possibly get you! That's hardly a logical course of action. Understand what your child's interests and inclinations are, then choose the school and path that stand the best chance of getting him where he wants to go. It really is that simple. You can check out more details on JC and poly admission requirements here.

So that's the update on Andre. He has no homework these holidays, unlike his poor sister. I was disinclined to have him bumming around all holidays and at first, told him to find a holiday job. That turned out not to be a feasible plan as there are limited options for 14-year-olds plus he has badminton training on some days. Community service was next on the cards and he helped some underprivileged primary school kids with their homework at a cc. He was quite good at it too! The supervisor was surprised that Andre could get a usually hyper Indian boy to sit down and listen to him. Must be a meeting of wavelengths, heh.

Unfortunately the sessions have since stopped for the school hols. So now, he's spending his free time trying trying to keep healthy. He's been working on his core and flexibility. Hopefully, he will lose a little of that tummy before Christmas!

Monday, November 17, 2014

It takes a village

Most authors will tell you that they are nothing without the support of their readers and while this sounds like a politically correct statement, it's true. Especially in today's context where reading is on the decline, it really does take the support of a whole community to keep books and authors going.

On my blog, I sometimes encounter readers who express their appreciation for what I do. But every now and then, I come across gestures of support so generous that they leave a deep impression in my mind. This post is a thank-you for the wonderful people I've had the fortune to meet, personally and virtually.

First, there's a mum who tried very hard to get her son's school to invite Lesley-Anne and me to conduct a workshop. When that endeavour failed, instead of leaving it at that, she rallied a group of like-minded parents and engaged us for a private creative writing workshop.

Denise, our bookseller, generously offered her office space as a venue and on a Sunday afternoon, we spoke to some 31 kids from different schools, and got them writing!

Some of the parents even brought snacks!

Another very supportive mum is Jenn, who has been a long-time reader of my blog. She has read my books and interacted with me on many occasions. She even got her son AJ interested in Danger Dan who contributed a kid's review! She blogged about my books here.

Finally, we have Mrs Zahira, Head of GEP Humanities at St Hilda's Primary. She has been one of our most ardent supporters, and has invited us to give talks and conduct workshops at the school. Through her, the school has purchased numerous sets of Danger Dan for its partner school libraries and in her personal capacity, she has also ordered many copies of our books for her children, nephews and nieces.

Look at the number of books waiting to be signed! We've truly been very blessed by her heartfelt support.

And in the spirit of community, we want to acknowledge the brilliant team that makes Danger Dan happen. Behind our books is a group of dedicated people who work behind the scenes to bring Danger Dan to life and to bookstores. So recently when we were at Epigram Books for a Danger Dan #5 planning meeting, we interviewed the people and recorded some scenes to give our readers a glimpse of the work that goes on.

We were half expecting them to decline to be video-ed but instead, they all gamely participated and readily answered our questions, even the strange ones (the questions, not the people!) They're terrific sports and we feel very fortunate to be able to work with such fun people. We hope we've managed to capture their passion and quirks in this second Danger Dan video, created Lesley-Anne and me (well, mostly Lesley-Anne). Enjoy!

Afternote: If you haven't ordered the books yet, a gentle reminder - 20% discount on online orders of The Good, the Bad and the PSLE, as well as all Danger Dan books ends 19 November 2014 midnight! Details here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The year in review for Lesley-Anne

2014 has been a whirlwind year for Lesley-Anne. As a JC student, school ends at 4pm on most days and during CCA days, she comes home after 9pm. Then there are assignments to complete and endless exams and tests to study for. She also began her journey as a published author, launching four books. Although all the writing had been completed last year, she still had to attend meetings and was involved in the editing stages of the books. She also conducted talks and workshops, as well as participate in book launches and other official events. Overall, it has been exhausting.

As I'd mentioned in an interview to another blogger, I always joke that Lesley-Anne is a full-time student with a full-time job (actually, that’s not a joke!) When we went to the Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival, she missed two days of school and came back to find a whopping stack of homework waiting for her.

People have asked me how she does it and I tell them it's tough. Lesley-Anne knows that she can’t afford to have any pockets of time wasted. She does her homework during free periods in school, reads in the MRT and catches up on sleep in the bus. As parents, we help by providing logistics and administrative support. For instance, Kenneth drives her to school talks when possible and I coordinate media interviews and school talks, which I try to arrange during her free periods or non-core lessons like PE.

I'm especially proud of the way Lesley-Anne has handled school talks. She's not a naturally outspoken person and approached such talks with much trepidation at first. However, she understands that it's part of her role as a published author and took it in her stride. Today, she is able to engage and related to the kids much better than I can. Nevertheless, it's still very tiring and energy sapping. Often, after a talk and a school day, she comes home and naps on the sofa for hours. As you can imagine, she doesn’t get much leisure time. If she does, it often goes towards sleep! In other words, being a teen writer may sound glamorous but it’s a lot of hard work.

The school holidays started last week but we've been laughing at the thought of any "holiday". The teachers have piled on the homework like there's no tomorrow. Eight pieces of work for Literature! Another eight for GP! Repeat for all subjects. And when school reopens in January, the students are welcomed back with...exams. My friend Lilian commented: no wonder the school does well in the 'A' level exams. The kids practically teach themselves! Do schools really not understand the concept of a holiday?

On top of that, Lesley-Anne has intensive CCA sessions throughout the holidays, sometimes all day, which baffles me. How on earth do you dance from 10am to 6pm? "Won't your legs drop off?" I ask her. Apparently not because there's also an upcoming CCA overseas trip and camp.

And as if all that is not hectic enough, she will have to make time during these holidays to write another book with me. That's right! Another book! We're still sorting out the details so can't reveal much at this point but if all goes according to plan, there will be an addition to the Danger Dan series.

So it's all very exciting but challenging for Lesley-Anne. Epigram Books has been incredibly supportive and never loses sight of the fact that she is still afterall, a teen. The marketing manager once asked me whether 10 years from now, Lesley-Anne will look back and resent the fact she didn't have much of a youth, that it was spent working. That prompted me to have a long chat with Lesley-Anne.

Her reply: Even though she's busier than ever now, she feels fulfilled, unlike in secondary school where she didn't have much time either but felt that her life was empty. It's a whole cosmos of reasons: She's studying subjects that she enjoys, she's passionate about her dance CCA and Danger Dan makes her feel like she has accomplished something special, giving her added meaning to her life. She loves JC so much that she's sorry to see the year come to an end.

From the beginning of the year, I've been concerned as to whether Lesley-Anne has too much on her plate and whether she would be able to juggle everything. (I'm a mum, ok? Worrying is in my DNA!) I mean, the school is very supportive but I don't think it would very sympathetic if Lesley-Anne flunked her exams. It was therefore very comforting to me when she did well in school. In fact, for Literature, she was ranked second overall in her level (although she did say that the boy who was ranked first was in a league of his own!) She loves the subject and her Literature teachers have been extremely supportive of her, which we're very grateful for. She has qualified for H3 (equivalent to the 'S' paper in our time) in both Literature and Geography but will be opting to do Literature.

So it's all good and I really thank God for His countless blessings on Lesley-Anne as well as for her work ethic. 2015 will be another crazy year, if not crazier, with the 'A' levels in view. Besides school, the book circuit looks to be busy as well, with some creative writing workshops already being planned by the NAC. It's overwhelming just thinking about it, so we're praying for peace and guidance and taking it one step at a time.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A gift of a book - Christmas sale!

A Christmas sale on 3 November? In my defence, I did see Raffles City erect a frame for a giant Christmas tree yesterday so I'm not the only one thinking way ahead!

Some people have said to me that autographed books make some of the best presents. So as the Christmas season looms, I thought it would be nice to offer my readers an opportunity to buy my books as a festive gift. I've worked out an arrangement with Closetful of Books, who has agreed to hold a very special Christmas sale exclusively for Of Kids and Education blog readers - 20% discount on all online orders for my books, up to Wed, 19 November! How cool is that? I will autographed all books and address them to whomever you wish (for Danger Dan books, Lesley-Anne will sign them as well).   

These are the books:

The Good, the Bad and the PSLE: Trials of an Almost Kiasu Mother 

Great for parents of school-going kids. I've also been told that students themselves love reading about the hapless exploits of the mum and her kids!

You can read a blurb and sample here. Check out online reviews here.

The Danger Dan series. There are currently four Danger Dan books released. Perfect for kids aged 8-12. You may click on the links below to read a blurb and sample.

#1 Danger Dan Confronts the Merlion Mastermind
#2 Danger Dan Tackles the Majulah Mayhem
#3 Danger Dan Spooks the Peculiar Peranakan Pirate
#4 Danger Dan Traces the Perilous Poison

Special Danger Dan goodies:

All Danger Dan purchases come with a Danger Dan sticker. If you buy two or more books in the series (can be multiple copies of the same issue), you'll get a special Danger Dan badge. If you buy three or more Danger Dan books, you'll even get a notebook (ie you will get the sticker, badge and notebook)!

To enjoy the special discount, go to the Closetful of Books online order form here and when you place your order, enter the coupon code: HEDGEHOGSRULE. (Haha!) A 20% discount will be applied on all my books. If you would like me to address the books to a particular person, just fill out the "Is there anything about your order that we must note?" field before you check out.

Discount coupon expires 19 November 2014 midnight.  All books will be mailed out after this date by 30 November. This way, you're guaranteed to receive the books by Christmas. There's no better gift than the gift of a book!

Meanwhile, Lesley-Anne and I had a fun time at the National Museum yesterday, as part of the Singapore Writers Festival 2014, where we launched Danger Dan #4 together with three other children's books. Enough words for now - here are the pictures!

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